Upper Darby restores some school arts cuts, but residents not satisfied

Posted: June 28, 2012

The Upper Darby school board's vote Tuesday night to save 15 elementary school art, music, and physical education positions that had been slated for elimination quickly took an acrimonious turn, as residents questioned whether the affected programs were being restored for the long term or being phased out.

The board passed a budget that restored the jobs, but that did not go far enough for many of the several hundred parents, students, and residents at the meeting.

They were riled by Board President Maureen Carey's statement in The Inquirer that she viewed 2012-13 as a "transitional year" when art and music teachers would work in regular classrooms to help other teachers learn how to teach the arts. Administration officials confirmed Tuesday night that the plan is for those instructors to co-teach in regular classrooms.

The parents called for the existing music and arts programs to be left in place, and cited reports that the district is in line to get $2 million in additional state funding.

They did not hear what they hoped to hear.

"Will the programs be restored to the level we are expecting?" asked Carolyn Caron, one of the leaders in the effort to undo the cuts.

"That remains to be seen," Carey said.

Business manager Edward Smith added that after the state budget passes, the administration will recommend the next steps to the board.

That prompted parent Andrea Gallo to respond: "I feel that we have begun a slide down a slippery slope from which we will never recover. . . . These classes should never be on the chopping block for any reason. I don't know how you can go in this direction and call yourselves representatives of this community."

In May, faced with a multimillion-dollar shortfall, the school board passed a proposed budget that would have eliminated all elementary art, music, and physical education classes, elementary school librarians, and middle school language and technology classes. Even with those cuts, the district said it would use $4 million of its reserves and raise taxes 3.5 percent to balance its budget.

Last weekend, Superintendent Louis DeVlieger said in a message to parents that administrators believed that about $725,000 in state funding that Gov. Corbett had proposed to cut would be restored in the final budget.

He said that sum, plus some other budget adjustments, would be enough to restore some of the 33 elementary school positions that were threatened. Four of 11 middle school language and technical-education teachers were also to return.

None of the 10 elementary school librarians scheduled to be laid off was recalled. In all, about 25 professional staff positions are to be eliminated.

Contact Dan Hardy at 601-313-8134 or dhardy@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @DanInq.

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